Fractures of the Shoulder Blade (Scapula)

The shoulder blade (scapula) is a triangular-shaped bone that connects the upper arm bone to the collarbone and chest wall. There are two shoulder blades, one located on either side of the upper back. The shoulder blade is protected by a complex system of surrounding muscles, which give it strength and allow it to move smoothly.

Shoulder blade fractures are not common. According to the American Association of the Orthopedic Surgeons, they make up less than one percent of all broken bones in the United States each year.

Causes of Broken Shoulder Blade

Scapular fractures are caused by high-energy blunt trauma such as that experienced in a motorcycle or motor vehicle collision, or direct trauma involving a large amount of force. Associated injuries to chest wall, ribs, head, lungs, spinal cord and shoulder occur in up to 80% of people with broken shoulder blades. Common causes of broken shoulder blades include the following:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls with direct trauma to the shoulder
  • Falls onto an outstretched arm
  • Direct trauma such as from a baseball bat or hammer

Symptoms of Broken Shoulder Blade

Pain, swelling and bruising may occur over the shoulder blade in the upper back or on the top of the shoulder overlying the coracoid and acromion processes. Other signs of a broken shoulder blade may include:

  • Holding the injured arm close to the body
  • Moving the arm increases the pain
  • Inability to lift the arm
  • Swelling around the back of the shoulder
  • Skin abrasions
  • Having pain with each deep breath, due to movement of the chest wall with each breath; this movement may in turn move the shoulder blade, causing pain
  • Shoulder appears flattened or deformed

Without treatment, a fractured scapula can result in chronic shoulder pain and disability.